It’s one thing to call the prodigals home. It’s quite another to have a home worth returning to.
Monday’s Meditation highlighted Christian prodigals, people who love Jesus but live far from home. They have taken the family inheritance and squandered it on travels in Christendom; left their family in search of something else and live as if their family is dead. In the comments on Monday's post more than one person observed that “home” may not be what Jesus portrayed in his parable:
When you've been harmed by men pursuing their own agenda, it's easy and natural to be skeptical of all church institutions. It becomes hard not to, when it's happened more than once.
It’s a fair question: What if we return home to a place ruled not by the Father, but by older brothers filled with judgment or manipulation?
Another friend texted me to ask what if work or marriage or life have brought about a change of location, and the new landscape is barren and cold? What if you left home for all the right reasons and there is no family of faith healthy enough to adopt a mature son:
My previous church feels like home and everything in my new city feels like a maternity ward.
He has a point: so many Evangelical churches focus on the new birth to exclusion of worship, community or spiritual formation. What happens if you’ve eaten at a healthy table only to find bread and water at the next?
Still another friend observed that the restless heart of the prodigal needs a transplant:
Christians drifters will never find that perfect church, so they are going to stay just long enough until the newness wears off and they see a few flaws, then it's off to some new church that seems more exciting and more spiritual.
Reminds me of Bonhoeffer: "Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial."
And when you quote D-Bon, it’s the last word, right? Well, no, actually. These friends and others have only opened the conversation.
Students of Jesus is about spiritual formation. It’s about each of us developing the kind of relationship with the Master that leads to rest and peace. It’s about taking the yoke of discipleship. I’ve tried to avoid criticisms of the church at large because I have no voice or control over the church at large. Besides, church-bashing is so fun and easy it requires no particular insight or revelation. Anyone can do it. Still, it’s true that our personal spiritual formation is not complete apart from the community God intended--the church.
Yet each of my friends have pointed out that telling Christian prodigals to go home is not enough. How can we address the deep need for true community of the Spirit when there are churches devoid of such life? How can we hold the Christian prodigal accountable for their own hearts when some have left home out of self-preservation? Can one small blog-post answer the deepest needs of both individual souls and corporate churches?
Today we can only point in the right direction, suggest the possibilities and open ourselves to dialogue with one another and the Spirit.
To those who have been wounded by the church I would point toward the Lord Jesus. The testimony of John reminds us, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:11) It’s not news that religious houses may be the places most in need of his presence. If we return home with a Christlike character we will be welcomed by some and abused by others. A modern truth: when we return the Father may not be waiting inside the building at all. The older brother may have taken over or--worse--the farm may have failed altogether. In these cases our calling to return may be especially difficult and sacrificial; we will take our place among those Jesus calls “blessed” in the beatitudes.
To those who are searching for a new home I would point toward the journey of Abraham. The father of faith “was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrew 11:10) He had seen the blueprint and was searching for where the architect and builder was at work. The benefit of a growing up in a healthy home is that we will not settle for a poor substitute. Our past becomes the blueprint for the future. There is a difference between running from home and looking for a new one: Dr. Tolkien reminds us that “not all who wander are lost.”
To those who see the fatal flaw in human idealism I would point toward the power of the call. Jesus understood that the very offer to “Come and see” can change lives. There was no shortage of idealists in Jesus day. He welcomed those with high ideals and tempered them with down-to-earth teaching about birds, flowers, foxes, wheat and tares. When his disciples believed fire from heaven was the answer he demonstrated the wisdom and true power that flows from keeping after the Father’s business. We can explain there is often a disparity between the builder’s plans and the worker’s craftsmanship. We can help them realize that a thoughtful pastor understands that much of his work may in fact be wood, hay, and stubble.
These are merely fingers in the wind. How should we speak to the Christian prodigal? How can our actions and counsel make a place for those who believe they have no place? There’s no shortage of comment when describing the problem--I hope for twice the comments as we explore together the solutions.